Fostering Equitable Groupwork to Promote Conceptual Mathematics Learning

This exploratory study involves a long-term partnership between the principal investigator (PI) and a middle school teacher and her students. Two major goals of the study are to describe how students learn to collaborate with one another over time to make sense of mathematics, and how students and their teacher negotiate what constitutes equitable collaboration, with African American students' perspectives being prioritized. In this way, it adds to this body of literature by: a) prioritizing African American students? perspectives on collaboration from the outset; b) describing, longitudinally, how students learn to collaborate; c) documenting students' mathematics learning within the context of small groups; and d) developing a set of resources for teacher educators, teachers, and students that focus on equitable groupwork.

Full Description: 

When students work in small groups it can promote rich learning opportunities and teach them to collaborate in ways that are important for life and future work. Having students work in small groups, however, can also create opportunities for some students to be marginalized in implicit and explicit ways. Research on using equitable groupwork in which issues of status are consciously addressed by the teacher has shown that such work can have a positive impact on students? opportunities to learn (broadly defined as learning content but also students? developing positive mathematical identities and perspectives on what it means to know/do mathematics). Most of the work on equitable groupwork in mathematics education have had pre-determined definitions of what it means to collaborate. This exploratory study involves a long-term partnership between the principal investigator (PI) and a middle school teacher and her students. Two major goals of the study are to describe how students learn to collaborate with one another over time to make sense of mathematics, and how students and their teacher negotiate what constitutes equitable collaboration, with African American students' perspectives being prioritized. In this way, it adds to this body of literature by: a) prioritizing African American students? perspectives on collaboration from the outset; b) describing, longitudinally, how students learn to collaborate; c) documenting students' mathematics learning within the context of small groups; and d) developing a set of resources for teacher educators, teachers, and students that focus on equitable groupwork.

Using theories and methods from discursive psychology and discourse analysis, the PI of this project will collaborate with a middle grades mathematics teacher to examine equitable groupwork. The small private school enrolls mostly African American students from low income neighborhoods. The PI draws on research related to complex instruction and empirical studies on equitable groupwork and productive student interactions. The basis for the developing definition of equitable collaboration involves gathering information from students about the kinds of relationships and interactions they value, as well as drawing on asset-based and humanizing research related to African American students from mathematics education and education literatures. This information will be used to inform the partnership work as well as be used to analyze the data that will be collected. There are many novel aspects of the work, including, for example, a continual interaction between how students are interacting and the developing idea of ?equitable participation? and practices that might support that kind of participation.

The proposal includes three phases of work with the collaborating teacher to read, plan, reflect, and view videos and research cycles. In the three phases, groupworthy tasks will be developed, the teacher will use these tasks and other important aspects of complex instruction to enact the tasks, and data will be collected focused on these enactments. The work will begin with the 6th grade, then expand into additional years. The data sources will be gathered in the work with the practicing teacher (e.g., recordings of planning and reflection sessions), in the classroom enactments of the groupworthy tasks (e.g., video, audio, fieldnotes, written work), and outside of the classroom teaching time (e.g., interviews with students). The learning of mathematics involves understanding the changes that take place in how students talk about mathematics and how they collaborate over time. The PI will use particular discourse-analytic methods, including thematic analyses from systemic functional linguistics. Such strategies help to focus on the content of the discussions and how people put various ideas in relationship to one another over time. The PI will analyze the small group interactions to develop 12 vignettes that can be used to do focus group interviews with students and later be used in teacher education. These vignettes will include, for example, illustrations of equitable collaborations and variations of issues that come up (e.g, missed opportunities that might keep the interaction from being productive).

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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